I Got Your 'Reasoned Discourse' Right Here
January 14, 2011
Remember way back when everyone was arguing over whether talk radio rhetoric caused the Tucson shootings? Man, it was a heated debate. But that was a long time ago....
Okay, it was a couple of days ago, but it SEEMS like forever. That's because the news cycle is faster than ever. One day, you're all about the Homeless Guy With The Golden Voice, then suddenly there's the tragedy in Tucson, and then there's a few days of fingerpointing, and then a poll comes out saying that most people blame only the shooter and not the "heated rhetoric" and, pretty soon, the only people left debating talk radio's role in the shooting are people IN talk radio and a handful of politicians clinging to the hope that there's some gain to be had by hammering away on the issue. Meanwhile, Auburn wins the BCS, the Homeless Guy's heading to rehab, snow's rolling across the East, Verizon gets the iPhone, and we're on to other things.
That makes me glad my column wasn't due until now. It saved me from having to make any of the arguments. Everyone else did that for me.
Having all this time to listen to everyone else pontificate on the matter has raised a couple of issues for me, though. First is that "heated rhetoric" thing. I think that in the rush of one side to point fingers (no, that's not divisive, not at all) and the other to deflect criticism, what got obscured is that heated rhetoric isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, an argument expressed with passion is good for talk radio. It's compelling, it's entertaining, and the passion draws others into the show, pro or con. Some of the best material I've heard on talk radio was expressed through something akin to shouting, and occasionally through a bullhorn. It's just continuing a rich history of passionate, inflamed debate about the issues, in America and elsewhere (watch the British Prime Minister's Question Time and you'll hear the opposition shout at the leader of their government; In some countries, you'll see legislators come to blows right there in their chambers). Our history wasn't forged by people politely exchanging ther views. None of this is new. We've always been divided, and if we're more divided now than we were a few years ago, these things tend to go in cycles. It's more worrisome when we're NOT passionately debating things; at least people care.
On the other hand, I was frustrated by some of the news coverage I heard and saw in the wake of the shootings. I'm not just talking about the incorrect reporting of Rep. Giffords' condition in the hours after the incident, which was wrong but understandable -- not good, not acceptable, but understandable, because trusted sources sometimes give the wrong information and, once one network runs with that, the rest reflexively do the same. It's also about news coverage on radio and TV alike that filled time with speculation. I know, the Internet was flooded with (largely partisan) conjecture and revelations of Sarah Palin's targets and the Daily Kos' "she's dead to me" posting and other "news" that ultimately didn't have anything to do with the case. And I understand that it's a huge story, there's massive confusion, the officials aren't talking, and the public wants information and wants it NOW, but you can't jeopardize your audience's trust in you by filling the vacuum with speculation.
The debate over talk radio's role will linger a little, but the general public's already moving on and the politicians will, too, as soon as they're sure they can't get any more traction with it. And that returns the focus to the actual story, the victims, the heroes, and the overriding issue of what society needs to do -- if it CAN do anything -- about mental illness. The story, ultimately, wasn't about Big Bad Talk Radio or Big Bad Cable News after all, it was about one guy doing a horrific, crazy thing and the community that didn't and/or couldn't do anything about him before he pulled the trigger. While the media and politicians were chattering about themselves, that issue just sat there. It's still there, in case you have any ideas.
Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, has, of course, featured links to some of the interesting aspects of the Tucson story, but you know where to find all the news about something like that. But when you need topics that you won't find in the usual places, Talk Topics is where to go. This week, for example, there are items about a new (and disgusting) potential cancer cure, the "real life superhero" who had a little mishap while fighting crime, cross-dressing robbers at a Home Depot, illegal Four Loko sales, how dining-and-dashing has become trendy in New York, the "best press release ever," the spread of Panera Bread's "pay-what-you-want" experiment, how tax money is going to pay the salaries of Hollywood stars, the horrible flooding in Australia, what the Pope thinks you should name your kids, another reason not to ride the bus, Charmin's new slogan, warning labels for soda, the Best Jewish TV Shows of All Time, weather-predicting pets, how ATMs are as dirty as toilets, and much more. I've got hundreds of topics available whenever you need something interesting, funny, provocative, or time-consuming for your show. Just come on over, and while you're here, read "10 Questions With..." WSTC-WNLK/Stamford-Norwalk afternoon host Lisa Wexler, who's finding success with a more lifestyle-driven show than you'll find on a typical talk station like that. Then, visit the rest of All Access with complete industry coverage updated all day, plus columns, charts, job listings, and more.
As always, you can keep up with everything on All Access' handy Twitter feeds, too, including Talk Topics at twitter.com/talktopics and Net News at twitter.com/allaccess. And you can get the All Access app for iPhone here or for Android here, both developed by jacAPPS. Unrelated to All Access, I have a few other outlets for non-radio writing, including pmsimon.com, twitter.com/pmsimon, and the latest addition, nerdist.com, where I'm writing about pop culture, tech stuff, and other geek-worthy topics.
Oh, yeah, about the flooding in Australia -- if you want to help, 612 ABC Brisbane, right in the middle of the disaster, has a page with links for the flood relief appeals. You can find them by clicking here. And if you want an idea to prepare for your own station's disaster coverage, click here to see the station's crowdsourced flood crisis map, showing reports from listeners on a map so that you can see where the problems are and read what people are posting about conditions by their homes and businesses. It's a good idea and adaptable for everything from snow coverage to earthquakes, wildfires, and whatever else might happen.
Perry Michael Simon
All Access News-Talk-Sports